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BOOKSHELF / FOR YOUNG READERS

From Dinosaurs to Deep Space, Kids Can Look It Up in These

October 08, 1998|KEVIN BAXTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One of the perks of being a parent is being able to tell your kids "look it up" when they come to you for help with off-the-wall homework questions. It sure beats "I don't know," the answer most of us would have to give if we were honest.

Of course, that strategy doesn't work if your children have nothing on hand with which to look up the answers.

Kingfisher is among the leading publishers of reference guides for children. Its current releases include four volumes covering everything from animals to outer space. Easily the most complete of these is the Kingfisher Children's Encyclopedia (492 pages, $35), which includes more than 3,500 indexed references and more than 2,000 color illustrations.

Each entry begins with a concise definition of the subject. Subheads divide the following text into easily digestible bites. Cross-reference guides point readers to related articles and subject areas.

Topics include such standards as the solar system and the telephone, but there also are such provocative entries as women's rights and the big-bang theory.

The book, suitable for all school-age children, ends with 12 pages of tables, charts and timelines listing such things as the past prime ministers of Canada and vice presidents of the U.S.

The Kingfisher First Animal Encyclopedia (160 pages, $16.95) covers more than 150 species with one-page entries that include full-color illustrations, brief overviews of the animals pictured, and concise fact boxes. The simple text and large block type make the book accessible to beginning readers, but the complete definitions should prove useful even to young adults.

Kingfisher's "Dinosaurs" by Michael Benton (63 pages, $15.95) is laid out in an equally inviting style with large, full-color drawings and photos dominating each page. The book's six sections explain what dinosaurs ate, how they moved and how they died. The internal makeup of a T. rex is discussed. There's even a section on how dinosaurs live on in pop culture through such creations as Godzilla, "Jurassic Park" and Barney.

Though written with young readers in mind, the book is a useful guide for anyone looking for basic information on dinosaurs.

Martin Redfern's "Young People's Book of Space," also from Kingfisher (96 pages, $19.95), is much more striking visually, with rich color photographs, detailed graphics and warm hues behind the type. This time, the book clearly seems aimed at students in middle school or above, but younger readers shouldn't be intimidated by the sophisticated layouts. The writing is clear and simple and broken into quick bites, and the heavy use of photos--more than 200 in all--makes even the most difficult concepts relatively easy to understand.

For especially quick reference, the book closes with six tables labeled "Universal Facts" that include lists of the 21 brightest stars and the 11 largest telescopes, and statistical information about the nine planets of the solar system.

*

Equally inviting visually is the "National Geographic World Atlas for Young Explorers" (176 pages, $24.95), a colorful large-format book of the quality we've come to associate with National Geographic. Sections devoted to each of the seven continents are introduced with dramatic six-page photo spreads, followed by detailed maps and basic statistical information for each country.

The book, appropriate for children of all ages, also includes sections dealing with climate and vegetation, endangered species, and transportation and communication, as well as tables on population density.

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For curious minds seeking detailed explanations, there's David Macaulay's "The New Ways Things Work," being released this month by Houghton Mifflin (400 pages, $35). An expanded and updated version of the award-winning bestseller first published in 1988, this book shows how machines do what they do. But it goes beyond that to explain how one concept often is linked to another--for example, how the principle behind the zipper also governed the building of the great pyramids.

The illustrations are decidedly low-tech, but the language is often complicated, making this book most appropriate for students in Grade 6 and above.

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Two series worthy of mention: Scholastic's First Discover Books and World Book Publishing's Interfact. There are more than 40 24-page hardcover books available in the Scholastic set, aimed at ages 3 to 7. The books, which sell for $11.95 each, cover such subjects as endangered animals, the universe and the human body. Spiral-bound, heavy-cardboard construction makes the books sturdy while the transparent flaps inside make them fun to use.

The Interfact series of 48-page books, $14.95 each, addresses such subjects as the solar system, rain forests and electricity. What really makes these books stand out are the computer disks that accompany each volume, complementing the written text with 15 hours of experiments, investigations, games and other multimedia activities. The Interfact books are aimed at ages 7 to 12.

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